April 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Parent Objects to Depiction of Islam in Textbook

A middle school parent has asked the Sullivan County Schools in Blountville, TN, to immediately remove a seventh grade Pearson textbook, My World History, from its curriculum. “She says that it presents a distorted view of Islam,” reported the Times News.

pearsontextbook“[The request] was by one parent,” says Pat Hull, an attorney who has represented the Sullivan County school system for about 30 years. “As I understand it, her concern is districtwide and not just wanting the book removed from one particular school.”

The parent, identified as Michelle Edmisten by the Times News, spoke before the Sullivan County school board on November 7 to make her request, notes Hull, who was present at the meeting. He says during his tenure representing the district, he “doesn’t recall” any request like Edmisten’s being made.

According to the Times News, Edmisten wrote on a complaint form submitted to the county department of education that the book “gives false claims and views on Islam, trying to ‘normalize’ through our children,” and that it is “disproportionate regarding Islam and other religions, teaching doctrine from Islam and not the others.”

The Times News also reported that Edmisten noted that her daughter took a zero and that Edmisten expressed concern that her daughter was not allowed to complete an alternate reading assignment and test. A video posted to a Facebook page for the Sullivan County Parents Against Islam Indoctrination group shows Edmisten thanking people for their support and encouraging them to go to the November school board meeting.

Hull says that the district is in the process of convening a committee to review the textbook. The committee will be comprised of the principal of the student’s middle school, at least one certified media specialist, one or more parents, one or more students, and a representative of the classroom teachers. (There are nine middle schools within Sullivan County Schools; the one Edmisten’s daughter attends was not identified.)

Hull adds, however, that while he would not personally see the request, he does not think the committee has to make its recommendation by a predetermined deadline. “Obviously it’s going to require the people on the committee to review [the textbook],” he says.

Pearson sent representatives to Tennessee in September and October 2015 to meet with parents, advocacy groups, and policymakers to “address their specific questions about the depiction of religion in textbooks,” said Scott Overland, director of media and communities for Pearson, in a statement sent to School Library Journal. “We continue to be committed to presenting balanced, unbiased, and accurate material. In addition, our offer stands to answer questions directly from concerned groups in Tennessee.”

Pearson representatives have not been contacted by the state nor the school about the current request, but learned about the situation involving My World History through various news accounts, says a Pearson official.

However, the National Coalition Against Censorship has written to Sullivan County Schools in defense of the book. In its letter, the group stated that “Educating students about Islam does not constitute indoctrination.”

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